Sometimes you just know that you blew it. It’s funny that even if you know the right answers, you can still take the wrong actions. By reacting to poor advice from a manager, I almost killed the motivation of one of my strongest employees.
Here is how the scenario unfolded: In an impromptu meeting with one of our fellow managers, I was told how a particular employee seemed to have too much down time when I was off property and was playing around too much. Most chefs have had to deal with this from time to time and many chefs deal with this weekly, and as a result get very little time off. But this was especially troubling for me, as I pride myself on building teams and systems that enable my operation to run effectively without my constant presence.
After this meeting, I talked privately with my employee about his playing around and his “lack” of productivity. This was just an informal little dialog, where I told him he had been observed with too much time on his hands while I was away and that I needed him to take care of his responsibilities and to use some initiative to do more if he had extra time during his work day. He said he understood and would correct the situation. Sounds like text book management, right? I was all wrong.
I had responded to a small piece of information passed on by a good intentioned manager that had no working knowledge of how my department operated or even what this employee’s daily responsibilities were. Luckily I realized what I was doing, before it caused any long term problems. I figured out I was treating the symptoms and not fixing the real problem. So I sat down and looked at the issues from a 50 thousand foot view and here is what I learned:
I Didn’t Check The Source
Not only did I make assumptions based on information given by someone who wasn’t involved with my team on a daily basis, but some managers don’t feel like they are managing unless they are passing on negative feedback and as such tend to only look for problems whether they are there or not.
I Didn’t See
I always preach, I mean teach, to look for the root cause of everything. Don’t spend time and energy trying to clean up the water trickling through the crack in the damn. This good intentioned manager saw what I had missed, but they hadn’t seen the cause—this employee was good enough to get bored. Over the course of the last year, while he had worked and learned this employee had become very proficient and extremely efficient at what was required of him. That’s great right? Yes this is what we all want in our staff, but success has to be managed just as much as failure. Because I had respected this employee’s abilities, I had stopped managing him effectively.
When an employee starts to become more efficient, you have to start giving them more duties and responsibilities. However, you have to do this the right way. If you do this too soon the employee will become overwhelmed and resentful, but if you do this too late the employee feels that they are being punished for their hard work and ability to accomplish more than others. Also, it is extremely important to make sure there is purpose in the additional work assigned and it is not just busy work or you will never get the buy in support from the employee that you need.
I Didn’t Asked
My biggest mistake was I never asked the employee if there was anything that needed to be fixed. My employee, like many, wasn’t able to tell me exactly what was wrong but he did eventually come to me and tell me that he was bored and everything had just become too stale and too routine. By not proactively managing this employee’s growth, I almost lost him, or worse, turned a great employee into a problem.
In the end, I was able to fix my mistakes and repair the relationship with my employee. We made some changes in his schedule, adjusted his responsibilities and helped him to make short and long term goals for his development. What I saw was an immediate improvement in morale and yet another improvement in performance.